Social Entrepreneurship and Reconciliation: Why the Narrative Matters

RECODE Dialogues bring together Canada’s community-engaged post-secondary institutions to investigate and discuss issues of importance to Canada and the world.

RECODE is a program of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation that provides social innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities for College and University students to become drivers of progress and change.

On the day before the 2016 Indigenous Innovation Summit, in partnership with Junxion Strategy,  RECODE gathered 25 people at the Edmonton Aboriginal Friendship Centre for a Dialogue on Reconciliation. After an official welcome by the Centre’s Executive Director Ron Moon Walker, we undertook a series of conversations.

The dialogue was framed around a central, convening question: What are the opportunities for Canadian post-secondary institutions at the intersection of entrepreneurship and Indigenous communities?

We quickly learned we had asked the wrong question.

In the broader, Canadian context, this was a timely conversation. The publication of the 94 Calls to Action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has shifted reconciliation more squarely into public dialogue. Mainstream media coverage continues to expand, and the many, varied, and complex aspects of reconciliation are more broadly understood.

In the lead up to the Dialogue, a discussion paper, Canadian Universities and Colleges supporting entrepreneurship and Indigenous communities, was shared with participants to provide insights into current activities and opportunities for Canadian post-secondary institutions to support Indigenous entrepreneurship. It recognized development of entrepreneurs as a key strategy for innovation and economic development, and Canadian post-secondary institutions as being increasingly focused on entrepreneurship and related skills development. We also noted, however, that relatively few of these activities are aimed at Indigenous students or include content that is specifically relevant to Indigenous communities.

Our Discussion Paper findings showed there to be a reciprocal opportunity for both the development of Indigenous entrepreneurs, and to incorporate Indigenous approaches and ways of being into mainstream and social entrepreneurship education.

The framing of our original Discussion Paper with a Western worldview served neither the Indigenous communities nor the post-secondary institutions we brought together. Fortunately, honest and forthright dialogue gave shape to a conversation that was insightful, informative and inspiring.

Mainstream definitions of ‘entrepreneurship’ are tangled with colonial jargon and metaphors.

In mainstream use, ‘entrepreneurship’ is deeply entangled with individualism, a ‘pioneering spirit,’ ‘disruption,’ 
and wealth accumulation, each of which can be viewed as incompatible with Indigenous world views. Indeed, in some ways, the jargon around entrepreneurship is colonial and is therefore inherently antithetical to Indigenous ways of knowing and being. Instead, this work should be considered from an Indigenous perspective, and at the very least reframed as community or local economic development.

A better convening question might have been, ‘How can ‘social entrepreneurship’ be considered within an Indigenous worldview?’

Certainly, ideas of ‘wealth’ and ‘economy’ would be reassessed. To address the individualistic and GDP-centric frames of these terms, it’s essential that post-secondary institutions engage curiously and generously, exploring the benefits of an Indigenous community-centric view that manifests through shared support and collaboration.

Insights & Observations Report Click to Download (PDF 2.8MB)

In addition to this central learning, our recently released post-dialogue report, Insights and Observations at the Intersection of Higher Education, Indigenous Communities & Local Economic Development, recaps the dialogue discussions and presents a number of other considerations, including:

  • Increasing encouragement and acceptance of social procurement programs within post-secondary institutions.
  • Removing legal and regulatory obstacles and barriers in favour of approaches that re-Indigenize communities.
  • Designing for distinct learning priorities, especially through an embrace of OCAP Principles (a set of standards that establish how First Nations’ data should be collected, protected, used, or shared), to shift the learning perspective of educators.
  • Distribution of success stories, to highlight models that work and connect individuals and communities through shared learning and practices.

We invite you to read Insights and Observations (PDF 2.8MB) and join us in an ongoing dialogue, exploring the questions that emerged and the opportunities for new practices, as we step together into reconciliation.

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